Make Your Own Medieval Memes with a New Tool from the Dutch National Library

As much joy as inter­net memes have giv­en you over the years, you may have strug­gled to explain them to those unfa­mil­iar with the con­cept. But if you’ve found it a tall order to artic­u­late the pow­er of found images crude­ly over­laid with text to, say, your par­ents, imag­ine attempt­ing to do the same to an ances­tor from the four­teenth cen­tu­ry. Intro­duc­ing memes to a medieval per­son, the best strat­e­gy would pre­sum­ably be to begin not with sar­don­ic Willy Won­ka, the guy dis­tract­ed by anoth­er girl, or The Most Inter­est­ing Man in the World, but memes with famil­iar medieval imagery. Thanks to KB, the nation­al library of the Nether­lands, you can now make some of you own with ease.

“On vis­i­tors can use images tak­en from the Dutch nation­al library’s medieval col­lec­tion and turn them into memes,” says “When using the meme gen­er­a­tor, peo­ple active­ly cre­ate new con­texts for these his­toric images by adding cur­rent cap­tions. The avail­able images are accom­pa­nied by explana­to­ry videos, pro­vid­ing view­ers with back­ground infor­ma­tion and show­ing them that, much like today, peo­ple in the Mid­dle Ages used images to com­ment on their sur­round­ings and cur­rent affairs.” You might repur­pose these live­ly pieces of medieval art for such twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry top­ics as club­bing, online shop­ping, or the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic.

At the top of this post appears an image from 1327, orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed for a book of mir­a­cles King Charles IV ordered for his queen. As KB explains, it offers “a warn­ing of what can hap­pen if you don’t learn your prayers prop­er­ly.” Below that is “a sort of Medi­ae­val car­toon” from 1183 about the tech­niques involved in prop­er­ly slaugh­ter­ing a pig. And just above, we see what hap­pened when “the Ken­ite Jael lured the leader of the army, Sis­era, into her tent. Sis­era had been vio­lent­ly oppress­ing the Ken­ites for 20 years. While he slept, she whacked a tent peg straight through his head.” Though cre­at­ed for a pic­ture Bible 592 years ago, this pic­ture sure­ly has poten­tial for trans­po­si­tion into com­men­tary on the very dif­fer­ent per­ils of life in the twen­ty-twen­ties. But when you deploy it as a meme, you can do so in the knowl­edge that even your medieval fore­bears would have known that feel.


Relat­ed con­tent:

Why Butt Trum­pets & Oth­er Bizarre Images Appeared in Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts

Killer Rab­bits in Medieval Man­u­scripts: Why So Many Draw­ings in the Mar­gins Depict Bun­nies Going Bad

Why Knights Fought Snails in Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts

800 Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Are Now Online: Browse & Down­load Them Cour­tesy of the British Library and Bib­lio­thèque Nationale de France

160,000 Pages of Glo­ri­ous Medieval Man­u­scripts Dig­i­tized: Vis­it the Bib­lio­the­ca Philadel­phien­sis

The Aberdeen Bes­tiary, One of the Great Medieval Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­scripts, Now Dig­i­tized in High Res­o­lu­tion & Made Avail­able Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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